As Foxcatcher’s dark tale of a misplaced father figure is released into cinemas today – we score the best (and worst) on-screen attempts at a bit of tough love
This Friday sees the release of Foxcatcher, a dark tale in which an athlete thinks a little too highly of his coach in a misplaced search for a father figure. Here, we chart leaders who have elicited confidence in others, from the heart-warming to downright illegal. Whether it’s the happy camp leader, burned-out boxing coach or loner down the hall, those with knowledge to impart are more than just instructors. Some don’t set out to mentor but find themselves held up as great leaders where others try and fail to inspire so much as a flicker of interest.
JOHN DU PONT IN FOXCATCHER (2015)
Former Olympic wrestler Mark Schultz (Channing Tatum) ekes out a miserable existence in the impoverished Midwest, training at his brother’s gym. Plucking him from obscurity, millionaire John du Pont installs him to head up a private team he is fashioning so he can play coach.
Rate my teacher: 0/10
When John du Pont offers to mentor the witless, penniless Mark, the athlete is bought, body and soul. Played by an almost unrecognisable Steve Carrel, du Pont oscillates between fatherly coach, mean-spirited employer and would-be rapist, seeing Mark as just another status symbol. His descent into narcissistic hell is sickening.
FRANKIE DUNN IN MILLION DOLLAR BABY (2004)
Director Clint Eastwood casts himself as Frankie Dunn, the gravelly boxing coach locked in a cycle of frustration as his estranged daughter routinely rejects his letters and protégé in the ring ditched him on the doorstep of glory. In walks 31 year-old Maggie (Hilary Swank) demanding Frankie coach her, herself looking for an escape from the bleak prospects life offers.
Rate my teacher: 7/10
Despite Frank’s early protests on account of her ‘bein’ a girl an’ all’, Maggie becomes the boxer who won’t let Frankie down, fostering a surrogate father-daughter relationship. Though tough, Frank is endearing, and his blue-collar beginnings put him in total contrast to the weird, aristocratic John du Pont.
MS. STOEGER IN CLUELESS (1995)
Cher Horowitz (Alicia Silverstone) is on a high from setting up two teachers, a charitable move with the convenient effect of boosting her grades, when she arrives at gym class. Grasping for another good deed, she makes a speech against the inefficiency of the high school gym class to tennis coach Ms Stoeger, before spotting a charity case waiting to happen in new girl Tai (Brittany Murphy).
Rate my teacher: 5/10
Okay, so she’s not exactly a ‘father’ figure, but Ms Stoeger can’t convince a single girl to hit the ball, whether it’s due to Cher’s ego, Dionne’s (Stacey Dash) professional tennis ambitions or Amber’s (Elisa Donovan) plastic surgery. She makes absolutely no impact on these brats, being about as useful an actual sporting coach perhaps as du Pont himself. However, a lack of psychotic tendencies away from the court means the comparisons end there.
MR. B. IN PALO ALTO (2013)
Gia Coppola’s directorial debut saw her bring to life one of James Franco’s own short stories, with the author as a weird soccer coach. April and her classmates think Mr. B is cute, but when she babysits his son, he takes the chance to seduce her. As her friends dull the ache of teenage boredom with sexual experimentation and minor criminal tomfoolery, April succumbs to her own dice with danger.
Rate my teacher: 0/10
In Foxcatcher, the employer-employee relationship made it difficult for Mark to turn down any demands made of him, just as the coach’s teacher status is used against his pupil-victim in Palo Alto for sexual satisfaction. In both movies, they see that the victim is far more vulnerable than they let on, and use it.
COMBO IN THIS IS ENGLAND (2006)
Baby-faced Shaun (Thomas Turgoose) lost his dad in the Falklands, and pit-closure, punk-culture 1980s Britain is no place to be without a father. Older lad Woody (Joe Gilgun) adopts him into a skinhead gang with racist thug leader Combo (Stephen Graham). Shaun is drawn to his aggressive masculinity like a moth to the flame.
Rate my teacher: 2/10
A psychotic fascist, yes, but Combo is also a victim. Provoked to his most violent by the description of ideal fatherhood, the audience sees a man struggling with expectations at the dog-eat-dog end of the social ladder.
MR MIYAGI IN THE KARATE KID (1984)
An old Japanese man (Noriyuki 'Pat' Morita) becomes reluctant mentor to a misfit kid (Ralph Macchio) who has recently moved to California without a dad. Although Daniel demands to learn karate to get back at the school bullies, Mr Miyagi recognises in Daniel both a need to succeed and the pace at which he must learn these lessons. Thus he begins his training with long, boring chores necessary to succeed, immortalised in the catchphrase “wax on, wax off”.
Rate my teacher: 10/10
Miyagi teaches Daniel karate, helps him get the girl and gives him a fabulous car to boot. In a touching scene where Daniel puts a drunk Miyagi to bed, it is clear a feeling of love is mutual. The contrast to Mark’s relationship with du Pont could not be more pronounced.
COACH CONRAD FROM DAZED AND CONFUSED (1993)
The narrative of the 1993 coming-of-age stoner movie is framed by an abstinence pledge Randall “Pink” Floyd (Jason) is supposed to make to his football coach. At the start, Coach Conrad (Terry Mross) chastises him for failing to hand it in, warning against his new friends. After the inevitable demise into hazy substance abuse, Coach Conrad is on hand to offer Pink a second chance, and symbolically is rejected in favour of the stoner lifestyle.
Rate my teacher: 4/10
Coach Conrad is trying to control his charge, though is admittedly less a full character than symbol. He represents the old order, exactly what Pink is overthrowing with his rebellion. Only the youthful Assistant Coach (Rick Moser), with his jovial back-slapping, might really have gotten through to Pink.
TRIPPER IN MEATBALLS (1979)
Remember summer camp? Us neither, but we would sure as hell have loved to be on Camp Northstar with Tripper, played by a boyish Bill Murray. Every parent’s nightmare, he literally rips up the rulebook of how to be a camp leader, with exactly the same idea of fun as the kids. His methods are put to the test in the grand athletic showdown with the richer, sportier Camp Mohawk.
Rate my teacher: 9/10
Tripper teaches the insecure Rudy and his awkward classmates the value of looking within for strength. Silly and flippant, until he makes an impassioned outburst to which the children chant in agreement “It doesn’t matter [if you win]”, Tripper is actually a passionate free-thinking radical for whom beauty is on the inside.
JOHN KEATING IN DEAD POETS SOCIETY (1989)
At a leafy prep school, Tradition, Honor, Discipline, and Excellence are the values instilled in the moneyed teenage boys destined for great things. A new English teacher, played by twinkling-eyed Robin Williams, has the boys tear out the chapter of rules from their textbooks (apparently a popular metaphor) introduces a curriculum of independent thought, and inspiring cultish following.
Rate my teacher: 8/10
Clever, endearing, an inspiration to many – Keating’s influence brings the school administration to its knees, but arguably inspires the suicide of one star pupil, leaving the audience to question the influence of cult figures.